Romanian Road Trip: Mountain Country

When I was young, I always wanted to go to the seaside on holiday in Romania and couldn’t understand why we had to follow the national tradition of a week at the seaside followed by a week in the mountains. Nowadays, however, I much prefer the mountains (at least in my home country – for beaches are pretty similar everywhere in Europe).

The first part of our road trip was heading north out of Bucharest up the picturesque Prahova Valley (particularly colourful at this time of year) to Braşov. We only stopped for lunch because both the cable car at Buşteni and the Peleş Palace in Sinaia were closed on a Tuesday, but if you ever go that way, you should stop and check out both. (By the way, the s with cedilla is pronounced ‘sh’).

Peles, the summer residence of the Romanian kings in the 19th/20th century. From gandul.info
The Sphinx, rock formation caused by the heavy winds at the top of the Bucegi mountains, accessible only on foot from the Busteni cable car.

We stayed a few days in Braşov, also known as Kronstadt in German, because its symbol is of a crown on an oak tree. Not to be confused with the Russian Kronstadt near St Petersburg, it was a bustling medieval and Renaissance town of craftsmen and merchants, where German, Hungarian and Romanian ethnicities lived together in something resembling harmony.

The coat of arms of the city on the town hall.

While it does not have the grand architecture of Sibiu (which is where the Austro-Hungarian aristocracy lived), it is still full of beautiful old buildings, some of them more renovated than others.

Nightfall in the main square of the Old Town, with the Hollywood-style lit-up sign of Brasov.
View of the city from behind the sign.

It is also home to one of the narrowest streets in Europe, appropriately known as ‘Rope Street’. Each window looking out onto the street has been decorated by a different artist.

I have a soft spot for Braşov, though, and not just because it has been the scene of many an escapade during my high school and university years (it is only 2 hours from Bucharest, so we went skiing or hiking nearly every other weekend). It is also surrounded by mountains, so in just a few minutes you can be in the forest and feel that you have left all the urban hustle and bustle behind you.

We stayed at a very nice hotel here too, in the Schei neighbourhood, which was just outside the Old Town walls and was traditionally the only place where Romanians were allowed to settle. This was the view from our balcony.

The weather was not as kind to us here as it was throughout the rest of our trip. It only rained a little bit, but there was cloud cover, which meant we didn’t get the best views of or from the mountains. And it was very cold for two days, with some snowfall, especially up in the ski resort Poiana Braşov, where I learnt to ski again as a grown-up after a ski accident in my childhood put an end to winter sports for me, as far as my parents were concerned.

A world away from the mellow autumnal landscape below.
All is well, however, when you can warm up your icy toes in a hot tub at the Hotel Sport.
Since it was out of season, we had the whole place practically to ourselves.

But it was the interplay of nature and architecture, as well as the friendly cats, which made us love Braşov.

Gate to the Old Town.
The tower of the famous Black Church in the background.
We kept passing this abandoned house on our way back to the hotel. I would love to renovate it and keep a few cats there. 

This is getting too long, so I will have to tell you about the next stage of our journey in a separate blog post. I had some hard choices to make about which route to take to Sibiu, where my younger son’s godparents live. I was initially planning to go via Sighişoara, which is the most beautiful medieval towns in Romania, but a bit farther away. In the end, time and other circumstances made us opt for another route. But, as you will see, we discovered a lesser-known treasure there as well.

One last fond look at Braşov. 

If you go there, try their Bulz (a sort of polenta and cheese mix rolled up into a ball) and their Papanaşi – enormous doughnuts traditionally served as a pair with blueberry jam and cream. Extremely filling – I can’t believe I used to be able to tackle those as a dessert. I now could barely finish one as a main course!

From retete.unica.ro

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Friday Fun: Luxury Mountain Lodges

I think the Americans must have a different definition of mountain lodges to just about anyone else except the Swiss. Have a look at these! Certainly not the kind I will be coming back to rest in after skiing…

Ready to go canoeing? From Stonewood LLC.

Montana Magica hotel lodge in Chile, from Atlas Obscura.

A dreamy terrace to admire the view, from Style Estate.com

Swimming pools are of course always a bonus. From poolguide.com

When you are isolated on a mountain, you can afford to have big windows. From Once Upon a Better Home.

After a hard day of climbing mountains, isn’t this the perfect spot to come back to? From mountainventures.com

Friday Fun: More Mountain Escapes

Preparing for my ski trip at the end of this month, so all I can think of currently are the mountains. Sadly, I have the feeling that my accommodation won’t be quite as attractive.

Mountain resort Chumbipemayangste in India. from booking.com

Traditional Japanese ryokan in the mountains. From Japan Quest Journey.

The view from the Alpine Escape studios in Romania.

Mountains and sea – the pinnacle of views! From Annandale Black Tomato, New Zealand.

Maliba Lodge, South Africa, from Pinterest.

Another amazing landscape from New Zealand, Te Kahu.

Friday Fun: Mountain Retreats

Last week, when we were covered in snow, I needed to escape to warmer climes, but the truth is I love nothing more than spectacular, remote mountain retreats… in countries which know how to cope with snow and access and heating!

Mountain cottage in Ogawayama, Japan. From Home Crux.

Anako Lodge in Switzerland, photo credit: Olivier Maire.

The interior of a mountain villa in Sri Lanka, thearksrilanka.com

Hot tubbing in the snow in Pestera, Romania, from Akasha Wellness Retreat.

The luxury end of the spectrum, Finca Paraiso in Costa Rica, from booking.com

Far more modest: the Hen House on Skye, from 15fiscavaig.co.uk

Friday Fun: Heading to the Alps

No matter what I say or do, I cannot forget about mountains and snow in the winter months. I miss them more than I can say, so here are some pictures to delight me (or to help me wallow in my misery).

Chamonix at night, from temmos.com

Thermal spa at Leukerbad in Switzerland, from Le Devoir.com

A summer shot, but still beautiful. Sankt Gallen in Switzerland. From Panoramio.

The Alps in autumn, from HG Wallpapers.com

My favourite vineyards, although the dream of owning one with a chateau recedes daily. From Lavaux.ch

But it’s the skiing I miss most. Chamonix once more, from chamonix.net

 

The Search

I looked around for beauty but I got distracted

by the grey rain streaks echoed on my kitten’s fur

as she sits all pensive on the window sill.

All I notice are water-stained window panes.

 

My brain fries synapses and skips seven beats.

She darts forth on sure-footed pads through the snow

like a lynx in the mountains I no longer have before me

to make up for the fault in my wiring.

 

I missed the deadline on dVerse Poets for the poetic prompt on anthropomorphism of beloved pets, but I am not sure that this poem would have been quite suitable for it anyway. So I am linking it instead to Open Link Night. Join me there for some poetic fun during this month of poetry celebration!

 

Friday Fun: A Place We Once Called Home

This is something I wrote a long time ago, on a very different blog.

My whole life seems to consist of being really happy in some wonderful places – and then having to tear myself away from them.   I love exploring new places but I also like settling in, making those places my own, getting that intimate connection with them that can only come from repetition and routine.  When it’s time to move on, I am excited about the new adventures I will have, but I am also sad to leave a certain part of myself behind.  With each encounter with a different country and culture, I become richer in experience, but somehow also poorer when I leave. 

It’s difficult to explain – but it’s like my soul has been bereft to a certain extent.  I keep the experience locked up somewhere tight within and remember it with such delight from time to time.  But the experience is unrepeatable.  Even if I go back to that country, it will never feel the same again.  If you go back as a tourist to a country where you were once resident, it can be exhilarating as long as you don’t think about it too closely.  Or you can feel shut out, a stranger once more.  It will certainly never again feel like home.

Last week, I had the opportunity to return to our village in France and took some pictures to try and describe the charm of the location (bearing in mind that these pictures do not cover all the seasons, only a sunny day in February).

Our home in France for 4 1/2 years.
Our home in France for 4 1/2 years, complete with climbing tree for Zoe cat.

Our close from the main road.
Our close from the main road.

The field we passed on our walk to school, often full of ponys grazing.
The field we passed on our walk to school, often full of ponys grazing.

The orchard where we could pick plums, apples, pears and quince.
The orchard where we could pick plums, apples, pears and quince.

'We live in the countryside,' my boys used to tell visitors, 'You will smell a lot of natural fertiliser.'
‘We live in the countryside,’ my boys used to tell visitors, ‘You will smell a lot of natural fertiliser.’

The view facing the other way, towards the Alps.
The view facing the other way, towards the Alps.